Sunday, 30 November 2014

Modern Slavery: Traditional Remedies


We are approaching the last wretched gasps of the Coalition government, so it is no wonder then that much of the most urgent legislative reform is tabled at the end of a Parliamentary period, only after the ConDems have placed own priorities on the statute books.

Thus the Modern Slavery Bill (, long-since demanded, rears it head only now.

The case for such a bill is, sadly, as evident now, as it was when the Coalition was formed. Indeed, an article in this weekend's Guardian ( estimates a record number of 13,000 slaves across the UK. Given the very nature of this human tragedy however, who actualy knows the exact number?

Indeed, as reported by the Institute for Employment Rights last week (, the Global Slavery Index (GSI) of the Australian NGO Walk Free Foundation, records a 23% increase on last year's estimate of the total annual number of people bonded by modern forms of slavery, and places the figure at 35.8 million people

It isn't just the ConDem's neglect in the timetabling of the Bill that reveals the abject disinterest in the issue; there are actually many other ways in which forms of modern slavery are accelerated by Coalition policy and practice.

Anti-Slavery International, for example (as commented on in the Guardian article cited earlier) note that exploited and vulnerable workers - particularly those who are undocumented and fear deportation - remain trapped in a situation where abusive employers exploit this fear.

Similarly, and as documented last year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ( there has been an 84% drop in the number of prosecutions by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) despite the massive rise in documented cases of forced labour or employment below the national minimum wage in those sectors covered by the GLA:

It is evident to anyone who has followed the devastation of ConDem policy that the 'war on red tape' and support for the 'wealth creators' has led to  pulling back on regulatory and enforcement bodies specifically in the area of employment, but more generally right across the public sector in the UK.

Thus we have definitive evidence of rising modern slavery, and declining cases of prosecution.

To add a further dimension to understanding why modern day slavery will remain undisturbed in the UK, and may yet set to rise, Cameron's speech last week to European Union (EU) leaders was somewhat diminished in tone, and did not carry the full set of proposals (e.g. capping benefits to EU migrants), yes was nevertheless posited on an ever hardening position on migration.

Labour's Pat McFadden recently acknowledge that political rhetoric on migration was akin to treating the matter 'as if it were a disease'. Labour's own recent behaviour around EU migration has not helped in creating a more humane, tolerant treatment of the issue:

This behaviour of political parties around migration, and Cameron's speech last week, is now having a multiplicity of effects, not least boosting UKIPs "told you so" rhetoric on the need to renegotiate Britain's status within the EU, but worse still, placing EU migrants specifically, and all migrants generally, at an exposed position to exploitative work. In the rush to the bottom employers know that they are able to trade off those disgruntled unemployed British nationals enamoured by UKIP's siren calls, with those recent migrants desperate to get work at any cost.

And it is often in between these cracks of sometimes formal, although exploitative work, that migrants fall and comprise the largest proportion of those estimated to be amongst the 13,000 in modern slavery.

Thus, the remedy to such a situation is not just through statute but through principled leadership which understands the punitive, corrosive social effects of allowing slavery to continue and consciously chooses not to look the other way.

As William Wilberforce said of those in Parliament who fought his anti-slavery campaign, despite knowing the volume of people and sheer misery involved:

“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”  

Cameron et al are in exactly that position now.

In Solidarity


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